Adjustment of Status to Permanent Resident - FAQ

Adjustment of Status is an application process by which people obtain lawful permanent U.S. residence. Learn more here.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

Here are some questions that people commonly ask about the immigration rules and procedures concerning adjustment of status. At its most basic, this is an application process by which foreign nationals obtain lawful permanent U.S. residence ( a green card) directly from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the United States without ever visiting an overseas U.S. embassy or consulate. But this U.S.-based process is not open to everyone; particularly because eligibility for a green card and eligibility to get it via adjustment of status are two different things.

What Is Adjustment of Status?

Adjustment of Status is the application procedure by which someone in the United States goes from having one immigration status, such as a temporary visa holder—or in some cases no immigration status at all—to having the status of permanent or conditional resident (green card holder), all without leaving the United States.

Contrast this with the required procedure for foreign nationals who either:

  • live overseas when they apply for green cards, or
  • who aren't eligible to use the adjustment of status procedure even though they live in the United States.

Such people must use a procedure called consular processing (CP). Although some of the paperwork for CP might be handled through U.S.-based immigration offices, the final paperwork and interview are handled by a U.S. embassy or consulate, most likely in the immigrant's home country.

The adjustment of status procedure includes not only submission of various forms and documents, but an interview at an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Who Is Eligible to Adjust Status in the United States?

Only a narrow group of people can use this procedure to get a green card; and the group doesn't include everyone technically eligible for U.S. residence. Here is a summary of the numerous criteria for eligibility to use the adjustment of status procedure:

  • You must be eligible for a U.S. green card (permanent or conditional residence), most likely through a close family member who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident , an employer, or being an asylee or refugee.
  • If your eligibility is based on employment or family, you must already have an approved visa petition on file, and your priority date must be current (if you have a priority date—this applies to immigrants in "preference categories" who must often spend time on a waiting list before receiving their immigrant visa or green card, owing to annual limits on visas and high demand for them). Some exceptions to the rule about having an approved visa petition on file exist, for immigrants in categories where the petition can be filed concurrently, or at the same time as the adjustment of status application.
  • If your green card eligibility is based on asylum or refugee status, you must have waited at least one year since either your asylum approval or your entry into the United States with refugee status.
  • You must be physically present in the United States.
  • You must not have entered the United States either as a foreign national crewman, in transit without a visa ("TWOV"), or under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) (although entry on the VWP is okay if you are the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen; that is, the citizen's spouse, minor unmarried child, or parent).
  • You must (with some exceptions such as for immediate relatives) be in valid visa or other temporary immigration status, and not have stayed past the expiration date of your permitted stay ("overstayed") or worked illegally.
  • If you fit most of the above criteria but aren't eligible to adjust because of an illegal entry or other visa or status violation, you must fit within an old law called 245(i). This means you can adjust status, upon payment of a $1,000 penalty fee, if you were:
    • the beneficiary of an immigrant visa or labor certification petition (including I-140, I-130, I-360, or I-526) that was filed on or before April 30, 2001, and
    • if the petition was filed between January 14, 1998 and April 30, 2001, you can also prove that you were physically present in the U.S. on December 21, 2000.

The good news is that plenty of people who are not able to adjust status can still apply for a green card from overseas, as described later in this article.

Can I Adjust Status If I Married a U.S. Citizen?

It depends. Every immigrant who marries a U.S. citizen becomes an "immediate relative," in immigration law terms, and theoretically eligible for a green card. But that doesn't mean they're eligible to get that green card by adjusting status, even if they're in the United States.

As it happens, people who both entered the United States legally (on a valid visa, which they weren't misusing for the purpose of getting a green card) and are married to a U.S. citizen are in most cases eligible to adjust status. It doesn't matter if they overstayed the time permitted on their visa or entry document. (Though again, this isn't a strategy one can carry out intentionally.)

People who entered the United States illegally and married a U.S. citizen, however, are (subject to some narrow exceptions) not eligible to adjust status. They can still use consular processing, but will likely need a waiver of their unlawful presence in order to return to the United States.

What If I'm Eligible for a Green Card, But Not Eligible to Adjust Status?

If you aren't eligible to adjust status, you might still be able to get a green card through consular processing. In fact, that's considered the "normal" procedure. It should be no problem if you already live overseas. It's also not a problem if you live lawfully in the United States at the moment; your case will simply be transferred to the consulate when the time comes for you to attend an interview.

However, realize that if you are unlawfully in the United States now, and you've spent more than six months in the United States unlawfully, then you're likely to face penalties at your visa interview requiring you to stay outside the U.S. for three or ten years, unless you qualify for a waiver.

This is definitely a topic to bring up with an immigration lawyer before you leave the United States for a consular interview—especially because some immediate relatives of U.S. citizens might be able to apply for a "provisional" or "stateside" waiver (on Form I-601A) before leaving the United States, which can avoid getting trapped outside for many years in cases where the waiver is denied.

Which Application Forms and Documents Do I Need to Adjust Status?

Here's a summary of the forms and documents USCIS will expect you to file.

  • The main form you must complete is Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
  • No matter what basis you're applying to immigrate on, include a copy of an identity document issued by a government agency, such as a passport.
  • Include a copy of your birth certificate (translated word-for-word, if it's not in English). (See this Sample Format for Translating Non-English Documents for Immigration Applications.)
  • If you haven't already received visa petition approval, and you're eligible to file your petition and adjustment applications concurrently, you'll submit either Form I-130 (and supporting documents) if your green card is family based, Form I-140 if your green card is employment based, or some other petition as appropriate (such as the I-360 for special immigrants). If you've already received approvals of these (or of another petition, such as an I-129F fiancé visa petition), simply submit copies of the approval notice.
  • Assuming you entered the United States legally and are adjusting status on that basis, include a copy of your Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record.
  • You must also pay a filing fee and a biometrics (fingerprinting) fee, and submit two photographs (passport style).
  • Unless you're a refugee, asylee, or on a K-1 fiancé visa, you'll also need to submit the results of a medical examination done on Form I-693 by a doctor on USCIS's official list. People who entered on K-1 fiancé visas or as refugees don't need to repeat the medical exam that they had done earlier, but must now comply with vaccination requirements.
  • It's a good idea to also submit Form I-765, application for employment authorization, allowing you to work in the United States. And if you think you might travel before your application is decided upon, be sure to submit Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. Both of these require separate fees.
  • Fiancé-visa based applicants must submit a copy of their marriage certificate from their recent U.S. marriage.
  • Family-based immigrants must submit an Affidavit of Support, signed by the petitioner, on Form I-864, to help show that they're not inadmissible as a likely "public charge."
  • Employment-based immigrants must also submit a letter from their employer saying that the job is still available and what salary will be paid, as well as pay stub copies.

The completed packet of forms, documents, photos, and fees must be submitted to the USCIS office having jurisdiction over your U.S. place of residence; you can find the address on the I-485 Web page.

After you submit your packet, USCIS will review it for completeness. If something is missing, USCIS will return the whole thing to you for refiling (send you an "RFE" or Request for Evidence).

You will be asked to visit a local USCIS office within a certain time period to submit your biometric information (fingerprinting and so on). Later, you will be sent an appointment for an interview.

Do I Really Need to Submit the I-131 to Get an Advance Parole Travel Document?

The wait for a USCIS adjustment interview is often many months long, and numerous immigrants wish to travel outside the United States during that time. Perhaps they'd like to visit their home country or take a vacation. But without advance planning, such travel can destroy one's immigration case. For starters, if the immigrant doesn't apply for an receive what's called "Advance Parole" before leaving, USCIS will assume the immigrant is no longer interested in the green card and is "abandoning" the application. USCIS will then cancel the case and you'd have to start over.

By applying for Advance Parole, you can get a travel document that gives you permission to return to the United States in order to resume your Adjustment of Status application when your travel is completed. Fortunately, it's easy to apply for, and most people submit Form I-131 at the same time as the Adjustment of Status application.

Here are a few important cautions about traveling on an Advance Parole document.

  • Having Advance Parole granted does not mean you are guaranteed permission to re-enter the United States. It just means that you haven't abandoned your Adjustment of Status application.
  • If you are an asylee and return to the country from which you escaped then the U.S. might deny your Adjustment of Status application. The logic is that if you feel secure returning to a country from which you sought asylum then you are not really afraid of persecution there and do not need the protection of the United States.
  • If you've been living in the U.S. unlawfully, you're fortunate that a 2012 decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) called Matter of Arabally and Yerabelly held that departures by people with pending adjustment applications and advance parole permission would NOT be considered to trigger the three- and ten-year time bars that are otherwise problematic grounds of inadmissibility.

When in doubt, consult an attorney.

What Happens at the Adjustment of Status Interview?

Several months after submitting your packet, USCIS will call you, and possibly your petitioner (the U.S. citizen, resident, or employer who submitted your petition), for an interview.

If you cannot attend the interview on the appointed date, contact USCIS and request rescheduling. If you don't request such a rescheduling and simply fail to show up at the interview, your application will be denied and you may be removed from the United States.

Bring a photo identification, such as a passport or driver's license, to the interview. You will also have to pass through a security check to get into the federal building.

During the interview, the USCIS officer will review your application and ask you questions to determine your eligibility and your petitioner's financial capacity to support you (in a family case).

If applying based on marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you'll need to bring proof that you are really married and living together. Expect extra questions about your marriage, too. If relevant, check out How to Adjust Status (to Permanent Resident) After Marriage to a U.S. Citizen.

Getting Legal Help

If you are in the United States and believe you are eligible for a green card, but are not absolutely positive that you qualify to adjust status, or have any complicating factors in your situation such as a criminal record, see an experienced immigration attorney.

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